Virtual lives

| November 01, 2007

The rise of the Internet has seen the driver’s communication and entertainment tools – cell phones to keep in touch with family members, laptops and PDAs for finding loads, an ever-expanding range of entertainment options – coming out of the truckstops and into the cab. With them has come both the sweetness and drama of family life and truckers’ further engagement with the world beyond the next exit.

In many respects, the increasing connectivity of truck drivers has mirrored that of the average citizen.

The public’s use of communication technologies has been driven by the rise of business applications. “He who has access has opportunity,” says Patrick Wise, Landstar’s vice president of advanced technology, about the company’s load-board applications. For drivers and owner-operators, the increasing ease of navigating public online (Getloaded.com, the Internet Truckstop, TransCore and others) as well as proprietary load boards and communicating with shippers and carriers has facilitated new ways of managing family and making friends. Other personal uses have followed, extending from the development of tools by the communication technologies industry – and a lot of creative thinking on the part of drivers.

According to the 2007 Truckers News reader survey, almost 70 percent of drivers use the Internet on some level, nearly 30 percent of users logging on in the truck itself, whether with a laptop, desktop or other device. Truck.Net President and CEO Craig Zweiner sees “ubiquitous connectivity,” he says. “You know that’s happening when a guy’s riding down the road with an air card in his laptop and he’s also got a Wi-Fi account with Flying J, the Petro or TA.”

It may have been driven by business, but in the end the communications revolution is as much about lifestyle. Following are portraits of just a few of your virtual lives.

High-Definition Veteran – Tim Begle
“Some of the most technologically advanced people in this country are truck drivers,” says Indiana Roadrunner, as the Hoosier State-based Automated Transportation driver Tim Begle is known online. “It’s the nature of the job. Everybody’s got cell phones, for instance, and you’re going to do what you have to do to make it work better for you. Same thing with whatever technology you’re using. Same thing with the truck.”

The 28-year veteran driver has a Wilson Electronics cellular amplifier, which boosts the range of his phone, installed in the truck and a Verizon air card for cellular broadband in his laptop. He can access the Internet pretty much anywhere he goes.

“The Internet to me is relaxing,” he says. “I prop my feet up and sit back with my coffee. I look at the posting boards and see who’s fighting, who’s saying what. I think it’s great.”

Begle’s also got “satellite radio, an iPod in its docking station, 12-disc CD player, my subwoofer and boosters,” he says. Begle seems living proof of his own point about drivers’ technological savvy, but Begle’s not a “normal company driver,” he admits.

He’s currently installing an exterior camera system to cover the area around the truck for increased safety and security and accident-liability prevention. “I’ve already got the monitor on my dash,” he says, “and I’ll use the right-side camera to cover my blind spot.”

A couple years ago when Begle was with Styline Transportation, also based in Indiana, he tested a similar, more costly system for Houston-based Safety Vision, which supplies primarily the municipal truck and bus markets. Had he bought the system, he says, it would have paid for itself by averting the disaster of litigation – during the test, he got into what he calls a “zero-damage accident.” But the driver of the four-wheeler it involved was acting strange, says Begle, so he called the cops. “Everything’s being recorded. She starts claiming that she’s hurt and later tells attorneys that evidence for that is she couldn’t carry her kid.”

But video evidence showed her doing just that, so Begle told her attorneys he had video of the whole thing. “I didn’t even have to show it to them,” he says. “They refused to represent her.”

He estimates his new system will cost about $1,500 altogether. “It’s an expense that most people might think is crazy,” he says, “but it’s very cheap insurance. And you’d be amazed by how much you yourself can’t see.

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